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The More Things Change

The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903

First you need to understand how research can go sideways, literally. The researcher usually has a goal, a fact or a hunch that needs to be proven. This is probably a lot like fishing (though I don’t fish). One goes out to catch a fish, maybe even a specific type of fish, but once one throws the line into the water, all fish are fair game, and the sportsman is just as likely to catch a boot or an underwater branch. At least, that’s been my experience, which is why I don’t fish.

In genealogy, a name is not a name. For instance, I’m currently looking into the Collings line of my family, but I also have to hunt for Collins, Kollings, Kolin, etc. I have to cast a very wide net, catch what looks reasonable and throw the rest back.

The other day I cast my net and as I waded through some 332 possible stories, I got sidetracked. Very sidetracked. The first 50–75 stories were relevant but mostly stories I had already seen, so I decided to keep going in the hope of stumbling across something new.

I got totally lost. My plan for the day disappeared as I stumbled onto an old newspaper front page from 1903 San Francisco and what I discovered is the world hasn’t changed much in 113 years.

I present to you a sampling of headlines and news stories from a weirdly familiar past: “White Insects Worry Farmers,” “Decent Burial Denied Paupers,” “Child Thought Dead is Found,” “Bigamy Charge May Be Result,” “Brisk Wooing Ends in an Elopement,” and just to prove times don’t change: “Hordes of Aliens Still Pouring In” a story about 521,320 immigrants entering the country (mostly legally, I might add).

How can you read those headlines and not want to know the rest of the story? For instance, consider the elopement story. (Note: I’m hoping the copyrights have expired, because I must share the full article, but I will credit these excerpts from The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903) :

Walla Walla, June 24 – A brisk wooing terminated yesterday afternoon in the elopement of fifteen-year-old Zella Masse with Henry C. Stewart, a man twice her age and who is proprietor of the Northwestern Music Company of this city. Stewart, accompanied by a stranger giving his name as Ross Leslie, appeared in the Auditor’s office at 3 o’clock and secured a license, Leslie swearing that the bride-to-be was eighteen years of age. The girl went to Stewart’s room and changed her short dress for a traveling suit. Immediately after the ceremony they drove to the depot and took the 3:30 o’clock train for Pendleton.

The girl’s father, a wealthy retired farmer, in company with Sheriff Painter, started after the couple last night. Masse swears that he will have his son-in-law arrested on a charge of abduction.

And then there was this tiny filler (by the way, a “footpad” is a robber who is on foot as opposed to on horseback, I looked it up):

Port Richmond, June 24 – While James P. Arnold and his partner, M. W. Truitt, were on their way home last night between 10 and 11 o’clock they were held up near G. A. Dimick’s place on East Richmond avenue by an armed footpad. As they had a large amount of money with them, however, they took no chances on being shot and ran when ordered to hold up their hands. The would-be robber failed to fire and his intended victims escaped without injury.

Traffic accidents appeared to be a problem in 1903:

Oakland, June 24 – Herbert Kaphin, the driver of a butcher wagon, was the victim of a runaway accident this morning which came nearly ending disastrously. His horse ran away and his wagon collided with a car standing at Tenth and Washington streets and he was thrown to the ground and found to be suffering from concussion of the brain. He was removed to the Receiving Hospital and later was able to go to his home at 854 Alice street. The horse was caught uninjured.

A story that could be on the front page of any paper today tells of how the growth of the community is taxing the infrastructure. Even the headline is timely: “Suburbanites Good Boomers.” The story describes the problems of growth by calling for better roads: “Every night and all night long on the one avenue leading from San Mateo County to San Francisco a stream of teams conveying the produce of our rural country struggle in the dark on the heavy road to reach the market of San Francisco. We need these improvements from every standpoint that common sense can indicate, and never so much as now.”

Finally, another timely story about a child born to an unwed mother. She was told by officials after delivery that her child was blind and otherwise physically disabled and must be placed in a public institution. The story goes on to describe a chance meeting, some years later, between the mother and one of the attendants at the birth:

…and the nurse asked Mrs. Nicholson about the baby, and she told her it was dead.

“Why, no it isn’t; some people out in West Berkeley are taking care of it,” was the woman’s reply, and an investigation was begun which resulted in the discovery of the boy, now 3 years and 8 months old.

In the meantime, Mrs. Nicholson has been married to the father of the boy, and they are bending their efforts to recover the child they have mourned all these years as dead. Owing to the fact that Judge Melvin is going East on Monday for his vacation the hearing of the habeas corpus matter could not be heard until his return a month hence, and the case was continued until that time.

Finally, a little medical advice that might also seem timely, here’s an ad which looks more like a news tidbit headlined: “To Cure a Cold in One Day.”

Take Laxative Bromo Quinine Tablets. Druggists refund money if it fails to cure. E.W.Grove’s sig. on each box. 25c.”

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Swank

    This is good! I enjoy what you write, no matter what it’s about. Keep it up!

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